Showing posts with label Creative Nonfiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Creative Nonfiction. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Truth and an Excerpt to Prove It

Almost every lie I wrote yesterday held a grain of truth, but there was nothing false about the two that were true. Of course, I've written stories about the most harrowing of my life's adventures, so my Tuesday Teaser will follow, a snippet from that story. But first:

1. I earned my doctorate in Rhetorical Speaking from the State University of New York at Oswego. Nope. I earned a Bachelor's in Rhetorical Communications from that school.

2. We have seven pets: a Shitzu puppy named Sammy, a Himalayan Persian cat named Pumpkin, an African Gray parrot named C.J., two love birds called Happy and Mango, a Betta Fish called Mr. Odie, and a frog named Jeremiah that hatched from a tadpole we caught in the pond out back. False! We have a Betta named Mr. Odie, but the other pets ALL live with my sister.

3. A ten-foot-long shark swam right alongside me while I was looking for seashells in water up to my knees on the Florida coast. TRUE! I was beach combing on a six a.m. walk, and I thought it was a dolphin in the water. I couldn't believe I was that close to a dolphin and in my excitement, I waded further in and walked alongside it. When it didn't surface for air I became suspicious, but when it thrashed its head I was sure: it was a shark, trolling the shore for breakfast.

4. I trained for three months and won at the regional level (Southeastern U.S.) of the Fitness America Competition. No...but I did place third!

5. I was kidnapped at gunpoint by machine gun-toting rebels during an African civil war. 100% True. See excerpt below.

6. One summer, I juiced three cucumbers a day, and drinking the juice made my hair grow six inches in three and a half months. No way.

7. In 1991, I shook Madonna's hand on the red carpet when she arrived for the premier of Truth or Dare in Hollywood, CA. Untrue-ish. I was there, and Madonna stepped out of her limo fifteen feet in front of me. But I didn't shake her hand.

8. I speak four languages: English (duh), French, Spanish, and an African dialect called Sango. Nope, I only speak three languages. No hablo Espagnol.

I apologize in advance for only offering a short excerpt of the following. In the Face of Danger, which tells the story of my abduction by rebel soldiers during the 1996 mutant army uprising in the Central African Republic, is currently submitted to The New Millennium Awards contest in the category of Creative Non-Fiction. For this reason, I can't publish it on the web. And, for the same reason, this excerpt will only be up for one day.

Here's the set-up: I was a Peace Corps volunteer with only a few months of service left before finishing my two year, three month tour of duty. My husband Christian, who was then my fiancé, and I met there. At the time of this story, he was living ten kilometers away on his company's construction base. When the war broke out, the Peace Corp issued a country-wide evacuation, and we were to follow the Emergency Evacuation Plan implicitly. This included volunteers in the region locking ourselves in the predesignated "Safe House" and awaiting further instructions. We were not to leave under any circumstances. I did. Here's what happened:

Excerpt From: In the Face of Danger
by Nicole Ducleroir


Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Empty Fish Tank

Almost exactly a year ago to the day my husband brought Mr. Odie home to live with us. He has been one of the best pets ever... considering he's a fish. For one, he hasn't died yet. In terms of our experiences with fish, he's a centenarian. Hell, he's freakin' Yoda.

The kids really wanted a kitten, in fact, Sidney had launched a full-blown campaign to persuade her father that our family was sadly incomplete without a pet. When Christian brought Mr. Odie home the children were enthusiastic (even Sidney, who declared this "was not what she meant by a pet"), especially since Mr. Odie was a Betta Fish. Up until then, we'd only welcomed standard Tetras and Mollies into our tank. They were fun to have around for the week or so they managed to stay alive. Betta fish are apparently much heartier creatures. In addition, Mr. Odie has real personality. He comes right to the glass when you peer into his tank. And they say a Betta Fish is as playful as a dolphin. If you drop a ping pong ball onto the surface of the water, a Betta Fish will push it around the tank with his nose. Although, if Mr. Odie can perform this trick, he's keeping it a secret from us.

In honor of Mr. Odies's annivarsary, I'd like to share a poem I wrote last year prior to his arrival.

You see, the fish tank occupies what I consider valuable real estate in the kitchen. It's located on a stretch of wall between the end of the countertop and the table -- a space where I have always envisioned a bulky, rustic sideboard-like piece of furniture where I could store table linens and the overflow of dinner ware. There was almost a year between the passing of the last fish and Mr. Odie's arrival. During that time, the fish tank was empty. I wanted it dismantled and moved to the garage, but Christian liked the look of an aquarium and enjoyed the percolating sound of water through the filter. So it stayed. Empty.

I'd planned on framing the following poem and hanging it above the vacant tank, as a passive-aggressive jab at my husband's stubbornness. Before I got the chance, he brought the Betta home. Mr. Odie, this one's for you!

The Empty Fish Tank
By Nicole Ducleroir

Giggling water gurgles
from a guppy's ghost town tank
It sits fishless in my kitchen;
Stubborn husband I have to thank.

He'd see the stretch of wall undressed
should the vacant tank disappear;
That the spot would sport a buffet
is ignored by his id austere.

The battle of mismatched iron wills
rages on the silent front line.
I'll bide my time, but once I find
that perfect piece....
The space is MINE.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday Teaser

In 2008 I took part in a creative writing workshop that explored the genre of memoir writing. At that time, I'd only written fiction, so stepping outside my comfort zone was exciting and nerve-wracking. Adding to the challenge was the fact that two of the writers taking part in the workshop were hilarious women well-known for their quick humor and funny storytelling styles. One assignment was to write a short comedic piece based on something that happened in our homes. I'm not a comedic writer! But luckily for me, (but not so much for my son), something had happened the night before and became the subject of my workshop homework:

Laughter Is The Best Medicine

Uncontrollable laughter had broken out, the kind that is almost silent except for the occasional snort that perpetuates the hilarity. Still seated around the table, my husband and I, and our two kids had just come to the end of a meal when it happened.

Mealtimes are reverent moments in my household. My husband is French, so for him partaking in a meal involves careful attention to detail and certain protocol. It is insulting to his palette to eat fruit during the same course as the meat. And there is no going back to the meat course once the fruit has been served. I, thankfully, LOVE to cook, and was a willing student under the tutelage of my mother-in-law in the early years of my marriage when she worried that her son would suffer a life-sentence of American fare. What some consider gourmet dishes are mainstays of my daily menus. I am also an avid advocate of eating healthy and exercising, and many heavy sauces and butter-soaked recipes clash with my idea of sane nourishment. So, careful planning goes into each repast, from leisurely weekend meals to time-pressed weekday meals, to ensure a balance of nutrition and taste.

This particular evening, I had chosen a side dish of sliced zucchini, lightly sautéed in olive oil and garlic. My daughter, who is always in a rush for dessert, complained about the vegetable throughout the entire meal.

"This broccoli doesn't look right," she whined.

"It's zucchini and it's delicious. Just eat it."

"It's BROWN," she said.

"It's a little seared. It has more flavor that way. Just eat it."

She pushed it around her plate with her fork. She sighed. "It's gross and mushy." Oh, for heaven's sake. I tried to ignore her.

My son was drinking from his water glass, when suddenly he started to cough. It was one of those coughs that comes from deep in the throat, and seems to have mixed along the way with a burp. His face turned red and his violent coughs would not allow him time to get a breath. My husband thought he was choking, but my mother instincts quickly ruled that possibility out. Just as I knew intuitively that he wasn't choking, I also knew the boy was going to throw up. I knew it, and I didn't want it to happen on my table.

I sprang from my chair and grabbed Cody by the back of the neck, pulling him to his feet with my other hand. I was racing the vomit's arrival, and in the panic lost track of the next installment of my plan. Where should I allow him to vomit? The trash can!... No, no good. He'll have to angle the vomit's trajectory and it'll wind up all over the place. I turned Cody with the back of his neck. The sink! Perfect! I half dragged the choking mess of a boy, a bit surprised that he hadn't heaved by now. Once he was safely held over the kitchen sink, what turned out to be a vomit-free coughing fit subsided. I kept him bent over for safe measure a few moments more, until he finally said, "God, Mom, let me go!" At this point I checked him out properly, making sure he was indeed ok, and gave him a loving escort back to the table.

Everyone asked him if he was alright, and my husband shared how frightened he had been that Cody might have been choking. Cody wiped his still teary eyes with his sleeve and reassured everyone that he was feeling better. My husband said, "You must have swallowed sideways, or something."

My daughter mumbled, "It was probably the broccoli."

She delivered the comic relief that diffused the whole drama, and we roared!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jungle Love

[This was my Valentine's Day post, that I didn't get a chance to post yesterday. It's the story of how my husband and I first met. I hope you enjoy it!]

The sound rumbled like sudden thunder, shattering the still African night. Vibrations coursed through my mud brick house with fingers that stripped me of sleep and forced me upright in the bed. I knew my searching eyes were open, but I was blinded by the inky air, devoid of light. In my confusion, I couldn’t get my bearings. Then I realized what I was hearing. The sound, coming in waves of intensity, was a car engine being revved on the dirt road in front of my house. Not a car, I thought, a truck. And then I heard a man’s voice call out.

“Pascal! Ouvres-moi toute suite!”

My heart, hammering in my chest from being shocked awake, skipped to a new tempo. Christian! Christian was here. I sprang into action just as I heard Pascal respond with a sleepy “Oui, Patron.” It would only take him a few seconds to open the wide bamboo gate and emit the Land Cruiser. I scrambled across the lumpy mattress to the edge of the bed and groped for the mosquito net. Clumsy, misjudging hands pushed hard against the coarse openwork, knocking a candle to the floor from its perch atop the three-legged stool outside the mesh, pushed up against the bed frame. No matter, I thought. I knew besides the candle and the book I was reading before I blew it out, there was a flashlight on that stool. At the edge of the mattress, I grasped two handfuls of the netting just as the engine cut outside, and silence rushed into the darkness around me.

I yanked up on the mosquito net and it came untucked from the mattress. I paused, heard Christian speaking in a muffled tone to Pascal, the Central African employed by the Peace Corps to guard my house each night. I wondered if Christian was scolding him for sleeping on the job. Christian was a Frenchman employed by an Italian construction company, working on a World Bank funded project to resurface the country’s dirt roads washed away each rainy season. Unlike me, he hadn’t been sent to the Central African Republic on a grass root mission. He was a boss man, un patron, a kota zo. Someone the Africans respected without question.

I pushed my legs out and let them dangle off the edge of the bed while I pulled the bottom of the mosquito net behind my head. I was naked. At just four degrees north of the equator, there were exactly twelve hours of daytime and twelve hours of night. At six in the evening, the sun slid below the horizon during a five-minute-long dusk that reminded me more of God simply hitting the wall switch. Darkness as black as midnight reigned for the entire twelve hours, but the intense heat absorbed by everything during the day radiated long into the night. Inside my stifling bedroom, pajamas weren’t an option.

There was a quick succession of raps on the door that I felt in my chest. Christian called my name through the rough wood. I shouted, “Just a minute.” My toes felt around for the flip flops on the floor, and my hands fumbled for the flash light on the stool. I was more awake now, and suddenly nervous as hell.

I’d met Christian the week before. I was riding my Peace Corps issued mountain bike back home, from the little town ten kilometers away where I’d chosen to launch my project. The day had been brutally hot, and no shade reached me as I rode along the wide, dirt road. Periodically, a bush taxi the size of a yellow school bus lumbered past. Each time I had to stop, straddle my bike, and cover my nose and mouth as a choking two-story-high cloud of red dust engulfed me. It clung to my sweaty skin, and I looked redder and redder as the day wore on. New rivulets of perspiration left tracks in each subsequent layer of dust. To add to my less-than-alluring appearance, my long hair was pulled into an unattractive ponytail, and I wore my glasses since the dust was certain torture for my contact lenses. I shudder imagining what I smelled like.

Christian pulled his Land Cruiser up alongside me. Through the open passenger side window, he introduced himself in French and commented on the heat. He asked where I was headed and I told him I lived in Bambari. I still had about seven kilometers to go, so when he offered me a lift I took it without hesitation. Plus, I thought he was pretty cute.

The conversation was surprisingly easy, considering my French was so bad. We laughed easily, and the ride was over too quickly. He lifted my bike from the back of his vehicle and propped it against the gate in front of my house. My smile stayed on my lips long after he drove away.

The next day, I saw him again on the road, and he asked me to lunch the following Sunday. I’d been in-country for almost a year at this point, and I hadn’t felt excitement like this since leaving the dating game behind in the States. I even pulled out my dusty make-up bag, vainly included when I packed but not taken out of my luggage since arriving. The mascara was clumped from the humidity, but I managed to coat my lashes just the same. We spent an amazing time together, and I didn’t make it home until Monday morning.

That was three days before, and I hadn't seen Christian since. In a world with no telephones, there was no way to talk to someone unless you were face to face. Those days following our date were torturous. I wondered if I’d ever see him again. I worried he’d lost respect for me, or that I’d lost respect for myself. As the days went by, I second-guessed every conversation, every look, and every touch. And now, in the dark of night, Christian was here, knocking on my door.

My heart pounded. Every nerve was alive. My hand closed over the flash light and I pressed the button. Nothing happened. In the dark, I jabbed the button over and over, but the flash light remained off. Shit.

“Nicole? Tu es lá?”

“J’arrive!” I called out. Goose bumps covered my body now. Reaching under the mosquito netting, I pulled the queen-size sheet off the bed. I stood, wrapping the cool, white cotton fabric around my suntanned back and under my arms. I held the whole thing about me like a giant bath towel; gathered fabric excess fell over my arm like a train. I could feel my long, bed-mussed hair drape across my bare shoulders and fall down my back. Shuffling across the gritty cement floor, feeling my way through the gloom, I made it to the front door.

When Christian tells this story today, he says that when I pulled open the door, I was the most beautiful thing he’d ever laid eyes on.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I smelled Wanda's perfume the rest of that summer day. It'd permeated the fibers of my shirt and the wall around my heart that protected me from her vicious attacks. Each time the spicy, floral scent wafted up I was transported back to her embrace, back to her words...I have breast cancer...back to her apology for all the terrible things she'd said about me. My unsolicited enemy was now my friend. I couldn't stop thinking about her.

We spent a long time talking outside the elementary school just before Christmas vacation, after we'd applauded our fourth graders' first semester academic achievements. I complimented how pretty she looked in the auburn wig she wore. She fingered the ends with lengthy, French-manicured nails and told me she missed her blond hair. She was getting better though, she said. Her health was returning, no thanks to her ex-husband. In typical Wanda fashion, she spent the next twenty-five minutes talking trash about her ex, how cruel he was to her, how he'd refused to help her in any way through her treatments. I just want to be happy, that's all. Just me and the kids, happy. Her words haunt me.

Four weeks later, Wanda was discovered dead in her apartment. I heard the news as if sitting on the bottom of a pool, the weight of the water pressing down on me, muffling the words. Details bobbed and floated below the surface of my comprehension. A friend was saying they'd found her alone, her body, so the police couldn't rule out suicide or murder. I blinked hard, remembering back to earlier in the day. It was 8:30 a.m. and I was on my way to the gym. I came around the corner lost in my thoughts of how I'd organize my day. Movement caught my eye, and I turned my head as I passed Wanda's house. Her ex-husband, now sole resident of the place, was in the driveway, gesturing enthusiastically at me. He beamed as he waved; I returned the greeting as I drove on.

I could see that giant smile in my mind's eye, and the hair on my arms stood up.

A few days have passed now, and I still can't believe she's gone. That space she took up on the sidewalk opposite me feels empty when I picure her, standing there a few short weeks ago in a long brown leather coat and high heeled boots. She was a tiny woman, especially after enduring chemotherapy, but she was larger than life. Her insecurities drove her to dress provocatively, to stand too erect, to apply evening appropriate make-up during the day, to push back when someone, real or imagined, pushed first. Her personality wasn't compatible with mine, but our energies drew us together. If she was in the same restaurant or school gymnasium or at the pool, I was hyper-aware of her. There wasn't anything obsessive about it, but there was something connecting us. I feel it still.

I wonder at the impact Wanda made on me, and why we shared that enigmatic connection. There is a lesson in our story, and as I work through its meaning I celebrate her in my heart. She died young, before her bumpy road smoothed out. I find comfort in the belief that her objectives for this lifetime were met, and that she's again Home and at peace.

Monday, January 11, 2010


This weekend set in motion my focus for the week to come.

Mornings are my best time of day. I'm energetic, happy, and look forward to participating in the unfurling day. An habitual early-riser, I was at my computer before the sun came up on Saturday morning, my fingers flying across the keyboard, giving life to an inspired stream of thoughts. I jumped at the voice of my daughter standing at my shoulder. I hadn't heard her come in.

"Mommy," Sidney began. "I want--"

Donuts, I thought, as the word sailed out of her mouth a nanosecond later.

My son, Cody inherited a lot of my genes: my looks, my temperment, suseptibility to headache and teeth-grinding, and my love for writing. But Sidney got my sweet tooth. In fact, she got Cody's share too. Double dose.

While the boys slept, Sid and I headed to the grocery store. I'm clinging to the diet wagon and refuse to fall off before my trip to New York at the end of the month, so we only picked out a couple donuts for each of the three of them. When we got home, Sidney tiptoed through the silent house like an elephant crashing through the brush, and within minutes the boys were awake. The promise of fresh donuts brought Christian and Cody to the kitchen in time to see the last bite of Sidney's first donut disappear behind glaze-smeared lips.

Cody chose one of the two donuts his sister announced were "his," a blue-iced affair with a face of gummy ring eyes and a red licorice smile. He ate it slowly, putting it down on his plate between bites. By about Cody's fourth bite, Sidney finished her other donut. She eyed him suspiciously when he declared he was full and excused himself from the table, leaving a half-eaten donut behind. He shouted "No!" over his shoulder when she asked if she could eat his second one.

The next day when I asked the kids what they wanted for breakfast, Cody was all smiles. "I'll eat my donut!" he said cheerfully. I looked over at Sidney, her arms hanging at her sides like a cut flower's wilted petals in a five-day-old bouquet. She was staring half-heartedly at the short row of cereal boxes on a pantry shelf. Cody followed my gaze.

"Little S," he said, "you can have half my donut, if you want."

Sidney and I both said, "Really?"

I was so proud of him! He wasn't prompted or goaded, except by an innate desire to do the right thing. And the look on Sidney's face was priceless. She went from partly cloudy to sunny in less than the blink of an eye. I hugged them each tight.

When I came back to the kitchen for a second cup of coffee an hour later, the kids were playing a collaborated game involving Bionicle robots and Littlest Pet Shop bobble heads. Their voices trilled with genuine happiness as the bizarre cast of characters interacted with indiscriminate ease. I stood there a minute, in awe of them. As if I'd made a sudden noise, they both looked up.

"What's wrong?" they asked.

I told them how wide my heart smiles when I see them getting along so well. And I pointed out that Cody's act of kindness in sharing his donut with Sidney started them both on a path of friendliness and high spirits. After all, if Cody had been stingy and not shared his donut, Sidney would have watched him eat with envy and resentment. She'd probably have delighted in needling him at every turn, irritated him to the best of her ability all morning. The day was more enjoyable because everyone felt the positive effects of Cody's action.

I was interpreting a life lesson for them, but I was teacher and student at the same time. Once again, my kids were a mirror reflecting life in its purest form, reminding me how we should act. The power of kindness overwhelmes all else; its light douses the darkness. You may not see all its effects, but if you tune in to the world around you, you will feel it.

Lesson learned, again. Thanks, kids!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

My Kids Are Smarter Than I Am

I had a fantastic evening with Christian and the kids. After working every day straight since Christmas, with not one day off (including New Year's Eve or New Year's Day), Christian took us out for dinner at LongHorns. A few years ago, this was a regular, bi-monthly event. But it's been a very long time since we splurged on dinner in a steakhouse, and we enjoyed every minute of it.

The conversation was lively as we waited forty minutes for a table. In an attempt to ignore the tantilizing smells emitted from the adjacent dining room, the four of us played word games as we sat crammed into an entryway bench fashioned to remind us of the rustic Old West. One of us would think of a fruit or vegetable, announce the color of its peel or flesh, and the rest of us made guesses until someone guessed right. We moved on to animals (the hint had to be its habitat) before our pager finally went off and we were shown to a booth.

By then we were starved; the waitress was on the ball, and in no time we were eating. The food was delicious.

At one point in the night, someone made a reference to physics, or outer space, I don't remember which. Eleven-year-old Cody began contemplating his different theories for how mankind could break the time-space continuem ( is that even how you spell it??). Christian made a remark about Einstein, which prompted our son to declare he agreed with Einstein's theories on all points but one: Cody feels Einstein was incorrect when he claimed gravity pushed us rather than pulled us down. I tried to contribute to the conversation by saying how goofy the Star Trek series was, with everyone walking around up there in space like their spacecrafts were full of the Earth's gravity. Cody agreed and said he had an idea for how to address zero gravity in space travel.

I interrupted him and said, "Weighted shoes?"

My son rolled his eyes at me and said he hoped I was joking. I guffawed; of course, it was a joke....

I realized then I was about Cody's age when I was a big Star Trek fan. One of my first crushes was on Captain Kirk...

As I smiled at that thought, I was struck by how big the kids are getting. Just yesterday I was a 'tween' and dreaming of adventures I'd have when I was grown up. Moments like tonight are precious and fleeting. Cody's mind is so sharp; I'm enjoying watching him grow and mature. The sky's the limit for that kid.

And so the close of another wonderful day has arrived. I'm off to dream about Captain Kirk, going where no man has gone before, in his weighted shoes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Enjoy It, It's Free

The sun dazzled me this morning and the sub-zero air made me fully aware of my lungs. With each gulp of it I felt more vital, more alive. The grays and browns of winter's landscape dissolved in the technicolor brightness beyond the windshield. I smiled all the way to the gym.

In many ways, today felt like the New Year. The kids were back in school, and our daily routine replaced the loosy-goosy, time-has-no-meaning lolly-gagging of vacation. Don't get me wrong, I love staying in my jammies all day long. But after a couple weeks, this schedule-oriented woman was ready to get back on track.

Into the second mile on the treadmill, a personal trainer new to our gym arrived with her client. The trainer is a tall, muscular woman whose stature and gait make her more handsome than pretty. Her client was a doughty woman in her early fifties, quite possibly attempting to fulfill her newest resolution. I give her snaps for the effort, and I wish her luck sticking with a program. But she wasn't my focus as I jogged along.

The trainer was awesome! She kept the woman moving from exercise to exercise, huffing and puffing through each set. The woman didn't look happy, but the trainer stayed upbeat and wouldn't indulge her in laments. She counted out the reps, added "Come on!" and hand claps between numbers. "You can do it" became her mantra, and each time she said it, she used her voice like a musician uses his instrument, changing keys and altering tones, until the client was laughing, in spite of herself. I wanted to tell the trainer she rocks, but I worried she'd use the introduction as an invitation to sell me some sessions.

I'm no personal trainer, but I know my way around a gym. I've been working out regularly for a long time, and the last eight years I've trained with my workout partner and best friend. Even if none of that were true, I still wouldn't find money to squeeze out of our well-wrung budget for something like that. As I ran past the 2.25 mile marker, the trainer started me thinking about a play I watched Sidney's class put on last month.

Two classrooms of fourth grade children participated in the production of "The Baker's Neighbor." It was an adorable story with a cast of ten, and each of the three acts starred another group of children, cast in those same ten roles. That way, everyone had a chance to be on stage. I cracked up when a girl played the role of the baker in the second act, donning a large black mustache cut from construction paper, scotch taped to her upper lip.

Briefly, the story opens with the baker selling his famous sweetbread goods. A local named Pablo arrives, like he does every day, and simply stands in the shop, smelling the cakes. The baker realizes although Pablo isn't eating his baked creations, he is enjoying them, without paying anything. The baker tries to charge Pablo for sniffing the air.

I thought about this play while I was watching the trainer, feeling motivated by her energy, wanting to copy all her exercises. I didn't want to pay her, but I figured if I worked out near her, I'd get many of the same benefits as if I had. I was Pablo!

I spent about two laps on the virtual track worrying I was a terrible person, until I realized something else. The trainer was so inspirational because she was totally committed to what she was doing. She was joyful, living out loud, making the room brighter with her presence. That's what I wanted to emulate, not her workout routine, but the way she approached her life.

She left before I finished my three miles, but when I see her next, I'm going to introduce myself -- and not as Pablo, either!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Relative Importance

Cody and Sidney, Christmas 2009

Last night, a mixture of rain and sleet slapped at the windows, but I heard above the racket the sound of her sobs. A mother's instincts are sharp, and as I strode toward Sidney's bedroom I heard the rational part of my mind reassuring my instinctual self that nothing truly threatening could have happened. Afterall, I'd just tucked Sidney's purple comforter under her chin and splattered her face with silly kisses a couple minutes before. Still, I made it down the hall in three strides.

When I got to Sid's room, her light had been turned back on. Cody was leaning over her in the bed, stroking her face and asking why she was crying. The look of concern in his eyes when he turned them on me made my soul smile. Growing up, I always wished I'd had an older brother, someone who would take care of me. I realized I'd been imagining Cody all those years ago.

I hugged my son and thanked him for being him, and sent him back to bed. By then, Sidney was on her feet, her head tilted slightly back, her body wracked with sobs. I took her in my arms and just hugged her, realizing I'd have to wait until she calmed down a little before I'd learn what the problem was. The rain pelted the windows at a faster pace, but Sidney's tears finally subsided.

It turned out that as part of the Gifted Program at school, Sidney was responsible for reading a 300-page book over Christmas Break. I remember her complaining about the story a couple weeks ago, which she described as boring. I guess the craziness of holiday activities and cram-packed schedules made both of us forget all about the reading assignment. Until last night.

I clicked off the light and followed Sid under the covers when she crawled back into bed. We worked out a plan to get as much of the book read between now and Jan. 5th when school resumes. We're going to partner read, her reading two pages silently, then I'll read aloud for the next two pages. Every couple minutes, Sidney's little face would scrunch up again and the tears would leak from her swollen eyes. She is a child devastated when she feels she hasn't done all that she expected of herself. We whispered in the dark through each meltdown relapse, promising ourselves to do better and remind each other of the project. Eventually I felt her body go limp and her breathing deepen.

I lay there a couple minutes longer, listening. The sound of Sidney's breath, the rain on the window, and the muffled noise of the television in the next room gave me an incredible feeling of childhood nostalgia. I used to lie in bed and dream about the future. The memories were so close; it seemed like just yesterday. And then I looked through the darkness at Sidney's angelic profile. Now for my future, I want to be more like my daughter. She cares so deeply about what's happening in her life. Her commitment to the present is absolute. She reminds me of how I can be a better me.

I should sign off here......we have a book to read.